Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Release date: May 17th 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown BfYR
Hardcover, 392 pages
Buy: The Book Depository
Emily Bell believes in destiny. To her, being forced to sing a solo in the church choir--despite her average voice--is fate: because it's while she's singing that she first sees Sam. At first sight, they are connected.Sam Border wishes he could escape, but there's nowhere for him to run. He and his little brother, Riddle, have spent their entire lives constantly uprooted by their unstable father. That is, until Sam sees Emily. That's when everything changes.As Sam and Riddle are welcomed into the Bells' lives, they witness the warmth and protection of a family for the first time. But when tragedy strikes, they're left fighting for survival in the desolate wilderness, and wondering if they'll ever find a place where they can belong. Beautifully written and emotionally profound, I'll Be There is a gripping story that explores the complexities of teenage passions, friendships, and loyalties.
I’ll Be There has been collecting dust on my shelf for over a year. I usually don’t buy books unless I intend to read them right away, but sometime between ordering Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut and actually receiving it, I convinced myself it would be too emotionally draining. So I just left it on my shelf where it made me feel guilty every time I looked at it. And then last night, I finally picked it up.
In the end, while I did tear up a couple of times, I’ll Be There came nowhere near making me feel all those things I expected it to. It is a modern fairy tale, and as such, it is based on extreme situations and characters, both good and bad. There are no gray areas at all, and this made it very hard for me to form an emotional connection.
Sam and Riddle Border are being raised, and I use the term loosely, by a father who hears voices. He took them from their mother when they were both practically babies and has been dragging them around the country ever since. The younger, Riddle, has untreated asthma and seems to be mentally underdeveloped, and neither of them goes to school.
Because, if you cared about something, it would be taken away. If you stood up for yourself, you would be beaten down. If you spoke out, you would be silenced. They had only learned how to be there for each other. Other people could never be part of the equation. Clarence had set up the rules of the game that way long ago.
Emily Bell is just a normal girl with two normal parents and a normal younger brother. She is a senior in high school and a soccer player. There is nothing unusual about her life, until she meets Sam.
When Sam and Emily meet, they immediately feel a connection and their lives inevitably become intertwined. But Sam’s father Clarence has different plans for his boys, plans that involve a forest and a shotgun, not teenage love and happiness.
I am not used to third person omniscient narrator, not anymore. It is a narrative mode that was favored by Honorè de Balzac and Charles Dickens, for example, but that is rarely seen in newer (genre) fiction. Writing in this way, that allows the reader to see everything, but not to experience it through any of the character’s eyes, is not easy, and for Holly Goldberg Sloan, it was made even more difficult by the emotional complexity of her novel. And yet, she succeeded in offering insight into not just one or two, but almost every character in her book. Instead of getting overwhelmed by a very large number of characters, which would certainly have happened to a lesser author, Goldberg Sloan maintained all the narrative strings firmly in her grasp.
While the narrative voice certainly worked to her advantage in many ways, it also gave I’ll Be There a movie-like quality I didn’t really like. Combined with the naiveté of the plot, it somehow lessened the emotional value of the book.
Goldberg Sloan’s writing gave me so much to admire, but the story itself didn’t exactly inspire awe. Some people never outgrow fairy tales and I truly wish I was one of them, but unfortunately, they hold no appeal for me. This particular (modern) fairy tale is more layered and insightful than most, but it’s a fairy tale nevertheless. As much as I’d like to believe it, people don’t usually get what they deserve, when they deserve it, and the good guys don’t always win against all odds. I find the idea slightly ridiculous, to be honest, having seen far more injustice than any person should see in a lifetime. I envy people who still believe in fairy tales, but I’m not one of them, which means this book just isn’t for me.